Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

This past week there has been some a stream of Pablo Neruda poetry posts. I first read about this wonderful phenomenon over at Truly Outrageous. And Sylvia at the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, who posted the first Neruda poem, has been tracking the Neruda craze.

I first discovered Neruda the summer I was 16, and am pleased to join in the Neruda blogging with:

A callarse / Keeping Quiet

Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos.

Por una vez sobre la tierra
no hablemos en ningún idioma,
por un segundo detengámonos,
no movamos tanto los brazos.

Sería un minuto fragante,
sin prisa, sin locomotoras,
todos estaríamos juntos
en una inquietud instantánea.

Los pescadores del mar frió
no harían daño a las ballenas
y el trabajador de la sal
miraría sus manos rotas.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,
guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,
victorias sin sobrevivientes,
se pondrían un traje puro
y andarían son sus hermanos
por la sombra, sin hacer nada.

No se confunda lo quiero
con la inacción definitiva:
la vida es solo lo que se hace,
no quiero nada con la muerte.

Si no pudimos ser unánimes
moviendo tanto nuestras vidas
tal vez no hacer nada una vez,
tal vez un gran silencio pueda
interrumpir esta tristeza,
este no entendernos jamás
y amenazarnos con la muerte,
tal vez la tierra nos enseñe
cuando todo parece muerto
y luego todo estaba vivo.

Ahora contare hasta doce
y tú te callas y me voy.

Keeping Quiet / A callarse

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fisherman in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

-By Pablo Neruda
-Englsih translation by Stephen Mitchell

Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 10:31 am  Comments (27)  

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27 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think the Buddists call non-doing an action.

    I love this poem, and your blog. Thanks for posting.

  2. Love your posts, love your blog, love Neruda!

  3. […] Ranting and Rejoicing: Keeping Quiet […]

  4. I love this poem as well. I teach it to my Spanish students.

    Would it be too nitpicky to point out the misspellings in Spanish?

    Okay, just one:
    It’s just that “podarían” means “they would prune” as in pruning plants or vegetation…

    it’s “pondrían”, “they would put on”

  5. It’s a beautiful poem, with a sense of quiet, meditative peace about it.

  6. someone pls. send an explanation of the poem keeping

  7. this poem is very nicely written by pablo neruda
    and its very simple also

  8. this poem is very nicely written by pablo neruda and its very simple also

  9. It is a deceptively simple poem by Neruda about the exigency of self-analysis and introspection in building up a new world. An Indian reader with a penchant for spiritual stuff would find the poem offering rich resource for explaining things like meditation, awareness etc.
    The poem is a plea for peace from one who has seen the dire consequences of war and and violence. See the line “let’s stop for one second,
    and not move our arms so much.”
    ARMS can also mean weapons and moving arms(arms-hands)is the stock gesture of dictation and order of any political leader. The poet pleads people to do self-analysis before doing anything.A person without awareness in action would spread the same ignorance around. It is a vicious circle. The poet directs our attention to Nature to convince us that Nature too holds back itself only to come back with better output. Same applies to us.

    What is significant about “twelve” in the poem? That’s for all of you to reflect. All the best

  10. Nice comment. The Analysis of the word arms Is new and gives a new Meaning and a wider perspective too. Santosh, you have really done A Great job !

  11. This is a really nice poem, but i have a question.

    The poem begins with ‘Now we will count’ and ends with ‘Now I’ll count and you keep quiet’. What does the shift in the pronoun signify?

  12. […] beautiful, too: wanting to spare others the devestation of abandonment, the saltless hands, o los manos rotos, wanting earnestly to give them the nourishment that I want, too. « […]

  13. I am trying to track down this translation as the Alistair Reid translation leaves out the part about the earth teaching us (I think). I would appreciate it so much if you could tell me in what book the Stephen Mitchell translation appears.
    many thanks,

  14. […] sex, lust, physicality; what I want is the ethic of respect, and the inability to harm: “la vida es solo lo que se hace/ no quiero nada con la muerte.” There’s nothing wrong with sex without romantic love. The problem is sex–or any […]

  15. neruda is certainly a wonderful poet . I teach this poem to high school students and some of them appreciate it so much that i’ve seen drastic behavioural changes
    Ifeel when neruda talks about salt workers it could mean that even those being exploited or in misery donot have time even to think about the causes of their miseries
    the trnslation i have contains a phrase i’ve no truck with death kindly explain

  16. Another small correction:

    It should be “y andarian CON sus hermanos”, not “y andarían son sus hermanos”

  17. Wonderful poem! I am going to share it on our next Urban Poetry Cafe on the radio here in Nanaimo.

    Kim Goldberg

  18. this was my textual poem. i love it. 🙂

  19. the poem teaches the power of meditation which leads the person in understanding the reality of life through consious mind.

  20. Though many of us comment that the poem ‘Keeping quite’ of Pablo Neruda is a simple one, I find deepness in it. Man, since creation, has forgotten its mortality and swinging arms to create something but only for food, comfort, maithun (giving birth to children)and fear. There is no end to our yearnings and as a result we have distorted our living planet. Now we are worse than animals. Animals abide by the rules of the nature. We have forgot about our surroundings and have become selfish that today even a child born of his parents is concerned about his wish and will. The whole world is in the lake of fire and Satan and his followers are trying to win over God(Nature). In the hope of trying to become immortal, full of knowledge and searching for absolute rejoice, we are in the verge of extinction. So, the poem teaches us to keep quiet and experience a moment of fearlessness. If we render our duty as man without desiring more than to be alive, we are doing harm to ourselves. Nature has gifted us all and will continue to do so. How peaceful and memorable a moment of quietness is! It takes us from the din and bustle to ecstatic joy.

  21. i really liked nd appreciate the interpretion of the word “ARMS” in one of the above cooments!!

  22. We have this poem in our syllabus, and I found it simply amazing! What I din’t understand was why count to number 12, what is the importance of number 12?

  23. Now we will all count to twelve
    and we will all keep still.
    The number ‘Twelve’ may suggests either noon or midnight also. But to me Neruda might have not asked us to keep quiet either to noon or to midnight. Some body has commented that as the number ‘Twelve’ can divide 60 second/minutes or even 24 hours(a day), so he might have used it.
    However I think, there are 10 organs in our body out of which five are called sense organs which come into contact with the phenomenal world and perceive something and the mind set the other five working organs accordingly to fulfill his desire. Because of this unlimited desire, we have deformed the world. There is no limit to our yearnings and we put our all best possible effort. Now mind only perceives and our intellect takes the decision and then our organs begin working. Thus Neruda might have suggested us to keep our mind, intellect and 10 organs still not to cause damage to the nature any more either by deforming it or by polluting.

  24. Perhaps Neruda wanted to refer to the 12 hours of the day a. Most of the times it is said a day has 12 hours and night has 12 hours .So probably he is refering to the 12 hours of the day Moreover,a year has 12 months which implies that all year round we are busy in one activity or the other.,

  25. Its also a good point to be looked at which did not come to my mind. During day and night we keep on creating something which becomes the cause of concern.

  26. […] of vulnerability is contrary to that. And is, in that way, contrary to my nature. To invert Neruda: no quiero nada con la muerte/ la vida es solo lo que se hace. And that means being willing to live the whole catastrophe. Or, as Pab once put it, the important […]

  27. Dear Jill, I am quoting from Alistair Reid’s translation of the poem – “Perhaps the earth can teach us / as when everything seems dead / and later proves to be alive”. So he hasn’t left that part out either.
    … and speaking about the ‘twelve’ part – besides denoting TIME (we spend on self-detrimental activities), it could also denote a unity in the face of diversity – as the hands of the clock join at that hour.

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